Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, released copies of two letters he sent last August to the Minister of Interior of Italy, Roberto Maroni, and to the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs, of Malta, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici in regard to the incident in August when a boat carrying over 70 migrants was left adrift for over two weeks. Most of the migrants died.
A statement on the Commissioner’s web page states as follows:
“I publish these letters in order to reopen the discussion on the need to fully align migration practices with human rights standards. This serious incident should be effectively investigated” said the Commissioner. “Four of the five survivors have been granted refugee status in Italy and one is waiting for the decision on her application. This is good news. However, there is still an urgent need to take all necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies. Regrettably, the authorities have not replied so far.”
In his letters, the Commissioner also underlined that the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appeared to have been neglected. He therefore recommended that both countries concerned engage in a constructive cooperation to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles.
“The protection of the human rights of migrants needs urgent attention” said the Commissioner. “Every European country should act in a spirit of solidarity towards other countries, discharge its responsibilities under international law and effectively protect migrants, whose fundamental rights are at serious risk.”
Relevant excerpts from the letters:
Letter to Italian Minister Maroni, Ministry of the Interior – 25 August 2009
“[O]ne element is already evident: these people have not benefited from international humanitarian protection. In particular, the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appears to have been neglected. The Italian Coast Guard and other agencies – as well as fishermen – have shown until recently a laudable record of rescuing at sea hundreds of irregular migrants attempting to reach Italy. What happened this time? Have the provisions set out in the new security package played a deterrent role? Is the cooperation with the Coast Guards of other countries not functioning properly, thereby preventing boats in distress from being spotted and rescued?”
“Indeed, many migrants are human beings in dire circumstances who deserve our attention and respect. A substantial number of them are fleeing persecution or violence; this necessitates the provision of international protection. All European countries, not only Italy, must grant protection to migrants and cooperate more effectively to handle migration flows in a coherent manner, with full regard to humanitarian principles.
I hope that the Italian government will take all necessary measures to avoid such tragedies in the future. In this context, a constructive cooperation with the authorities in Malta, to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles, would be highly beneficial.”
“The survivors of such tragedies should of course not be criminalised. Instead, they should be provided with all the necessary assistance. Their right to apply for asylum should be fully respected, and their request examined with the utmost attention. The situation of their country of origin and of departure should also be taken into account.
I deeply believe that it is both wrong and counterproductive to politicise migration issues. It is much more in keeping with our common values – and, ultimately, more effective – to address them based on a comprehensive and cooperative approach, guided by human rights and humanitarian principles.”
Click here for the Italian letter.
Letter to Maltese Minister Bonnici, Justice and Home Affairs Ministry – 26 August 2009
“[T]he people on the ill-fated boat have not benefited from international
humanitarian protection. In particular, the responsibility to rescue persons at sea appears to have been neglected. What happened? Is the cooperation with the Coast Guards of other countries not functioning properly, thereby preventing boats in distress from being spotted and rescued?”
“Migratory flows present major challenges to many European countries. A common European approach is therefore needed to meet those challenges. I have raised the issue with the Swedish Presidency of the European Union. There is a need for responsibility-sharing, where every country is ready to contribute in a spirit of solidarity, not only with regard to the reception capacities of other countries, but also vis-à-vis migrants themselves. Many migrants are human beings in dire circumstances who deserve our attention and respect. A substantial number of them are fleeing persecution or violence and deserve international protection.”
“I hope that the Maltese government will take all necessary measures for such tragedies to be avoided in the future. A constructive cooperation with the authorities in Italy, to develop sea patrolling which is duly respectful of human rights and humanitarian principles, would be highly beneficial. I hope it will be possible to address these crucial issues with a cooperative approach, guided by human rights norms.”
Click here for the Maltese letter.